The UAW Shouldn't Get a Do-Over
The United Automobile Workers spent a reported $5 million trying to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., but ultimately fell short in a 712-to-626 vote. Now, the organization has lodged a formal appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, requesting that the board permit a second election -- a do-over, if you will.
The UAW claims that state officials deprived workers of their right, under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, "to vote in an atmosphere free of coercion, intimidation and interference." The UAW is primarily alluding to comments made by Tennessee senator Bob Corker, who stated, "I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga."
But as Fred Feinsten, NLRB's general counsel from 1994 to 1999, has said, "the board doesn't have any jurisdiction over politicians, or anybody outside the plant. So the board can't order them to not say these things." Because nothing can be done to actually stop the alleged problem, the UAW's logic could easily lead to a paradigm where election results are continually discounted, costing companies and the government millions of dollars.
Moreover, there is a precedent that applies with regard to this matter. In 2011, the Communications Workers of America won an election at a company called Affiliated Computer Services, but the employer objected on the basis that a New York state senator and a U.S. congressman had made public statements in support of the union. The board disregarded the objection, ruling that "public officials, even public officials involved in the regulation of the employer's industry, like other third parties, are not required to remain neutral and may properly seek to persuade employees." A ruling to the contrary in this case would reveal a blatant pro-union bias on the part of the board.
Even if the board accepts the idea that third-party comments can constitute illegal coercion, the UAW will have to show that the comments sullied the election results. As the Washington Post reports, "in order to prove that the threat actually moved the dial, the UAW will likely have to find workers who'll say they felt threatened enough to vote against the union on those grounds." However, this will be difficult, because the ballots were cast in secret and workers had many reasons for voting against the union (including, as the Post reports, a "two-tiered wage system for new hires").
And if Corker's comment illegally influenced this election, other developments could come into play next time around: Some Volkswagen workers have claimed that the company and the union are working together to organize the plant, and a board member from Volkswagen has threatened to withhold future investments if workers don't organize.
Despite all of this, there is still a chance that Obama's labor board could rule in favor of the UAW. From a legal perspective, the board is supposed to act as an independent, non-partisan regulatory body, but this NLRB is stacked with Obama appointees who have a track record of making partisan decisions. Some of its members have strong union ties -- the general counsel previously worked for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) -- and nothing can be certain.
If the NLRB complies with this absurd request, it will be overturning its own precedent purely for the political advantage of Big Labor. It will be making a mockery of the workplace-election process and discounting the votes of Volkswagen employees.
Fred Wszolek is a spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute.